First-Year Law Students Receive Top UVA Law Scholarship

Karsh-Dillard Scholars Combine Academic Excellence and Leadership
Avery Rasmussen, Abdulla Almas, Jameil Brown, Elizabeth Bagwell and Drew MacKenzie

First-year students Avery Rasmussen, Almas Abdulla, Jameil Brown, Elizabeth Bagwell and Drew Mackenzie are among this year's Karsh-Dillard Scholars. Photos by Julia Davis

September 5, 2018

First-year students Almas Abdulla, Elizabeth Bagwell, Jameil Brown, Drew Mackenzie and Avery Rasmussen are among this year’s class of Karsh-Dillard Scholars at the University of Virginia School of Law.

The students are the first to benefit from a historic gift by Martha Lubin Karsh ’81 and Bruce Karsh ’80. The couple commemorated the bicentennial of UVA Law by contributing $44 million to their alma mater, half of which will materially fund its premier scholarships program.

The prestigious awards offer full tuition and were originally named in honor of the Law School’s fourth dean, Hardy Cross Dillard ’27. They help recruit the finest applicants who also possess the highest qualities of leadership associated with UVA Law. The Karsh-Dillard Scholarships, renamed for a new generation of student excellence, reflect the strength and support of the program as well as the hopes and ideals of those who receive them.

“As a former Dillard Scholar, I am proud of all the new Karsh-Dillard Scholars and everything they bring to the Law School,” said Vice Dean Leslie Kendrick ’06. “With our stellar academics, our outstanding career placements and our wonderful community, the Law School has long attracted students who could go to law school anywhere and choose to make UVA their home. Thanks to the exceptional generosity of Bruce and Martha Karsh, that tradition will continue into the Law School’s third century.”

Almas Abdulla

Almas Abdulla

Hometown: Melbourne, Florida

Education: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, economics

Notable work/educational experience: After two undergraduate research internships in computational mathematics and economics at MIT, and an internship in economic consulting at Charles River Associates, I began my career on the electronic foreign exchange desk at Bank of America in New York. From there, I moved to the corporate finance division at The Blackstone Group, where I worked on foreign exchange hedging and analytics for international private equity transactions, and helped manage the firm’s portfolio of fixed-income assets. Through my work experience, I gained a deep appreciation of how geopolitical, economic and societal forces interact to shape the world we live in, and the role private institutions may play in influencing this order.

Why study law? I have always been fascinated with the role of the law as a driving force of our society and how it may be used as an effective tool to bring about positive social change. I was born in Azerbaijan while it emerged as an independent nation from the fall of the Soviet Union. In my heart, I feel a deep connection to citizens of emerging economies who can drive the development of their nations through the provision of equal economic opportunity. I believe that economic development, the rule of law and human rights are intrinsically connected, and my dream is to leverage the experiences of my legal education to work at the intersection of policy development and emerging markets investment.

Why UVA Law? The University of Virginia is the ideal place to pursue my educational and professional career, in part, because of the strength and academic rigor of its interdisciplinary J.D.-MBA Program, the superior faculty and opportunities for involvement in groundbreaking research and clinics with far-ranging, real-world impact. But beyond these factors, it is the strength of the community that inspires me to come to UVA. Its commitment to integrity, collegiality and humility resonates with me and, so far, my experience here has exceeded all my expectations.

What would you like to do with your law degree? I would like to launch a private equity/venture capital–style fund which invests in development-related projects in emerging economies, working directly with local governments to provide funding for entrepreneurs and drive ethical, sustainable investment. Additionally, I hope to use my legal education to advise on creating legal frameworks that promote the rule of law and allow for the greater integration of developing countries into the international economy.

What are you looking forward to the most in your first year of law school? I am looking forward to making new friends, overcoming new challenges and experiencing new growth academically and on a personal level. The coming year will be challenging and fascinating at the same time, and I hope to look back at this time next year with an appreciation of how far I have come.

Elizabeth Bagwell

Elizabeth Bagwell

Hometown: Ada, Oklahoma

Education: University of Oklahoma, letters with a concentration in constitutional studies

Notable work/educational experience: I worked as a research assistant for a year and a half, as a student worker in the President’s Office at my university for a year, and as an intern for my district judge in Oklahoma for a summer. I had the opportunity to take summer study abroad trips to England, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Additionally, I served as a pro bono consultant to a local nonprofit via a student organization. 

Why study law? I have always been drawn to the legal profession, deciding that I wanted to pursue a career as a lawyer when I was fairly young. The complexities and nuances of the law always sparked my interest. I loved examining issues, legal or otherwise, from every available point of view. As I grew up, my fascination with the technicalities of the law merged with my desire to create tangible and positive change in the world around me. I believe that lawyers have the ability to be some of the most effective advocates of justice and am looking forward to beginning my legal education.

Why UVA Law? UVA stood out to me as a school that managed to maintain a remarkable balance. The school has a positive collegial atmosphere without sacrificing an intensive and excellent education. The admissions team was welcoming, as were the current students during Admitted Students Weekend. I ultimately felt that it was the school where I would have the multifaceted benefits that come from having administrators, faculty and classmates who support your education and success. 

What would you like to do with your law degree? I have a strong desire to do some type of public interest law, specifically as a prosecutor. However, as I have not taken any classes yet and am interested in a lot of different areas of the law, I am keeping an open mind. 

What are you looking forward to the most in your first year of law school? I am excited about everything but especially looking forward to learning from some of the best legal minds in the nation and forming long-lasting professional and personal relationships with my classmates.

Jameil Brown

Jameil Brown

Hometown: Leander, Texas

Education: Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs

Notable work/educational experience: After graduation, I worked for just under two years as a software consultant with Oracle in Austin, Texas. In my role, I was responsible for implementing NetSuite enterprise resource planning software in the general business vertical. My clients were businesses of various sizes in an array of industries from health care to education to finance. This summer, I was selected to participate as a fellow in the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity Law Program. I first spent two weeks in New York City with more than 100 other fellows who would also work at large law firms around the country. During the SEO Institute, we split our time between preparing for law school and learning about life in a big firm. Afterwards, I worked in the Dallas office of Jones Day for eight weeks, where I assisted associates and partners with firm publications, due diligence and legal research.

Why study law? The legal internships I completed in college sparked my initial interest. Working at Legal Services of New Jersey during my sophomore summer showed me the power and influence of the law, as well as the ability it has to effect change individually and collectively for indigent populations. The following summer, I secured a competitive internship at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. This granted me a sneak peek into the ins and outs of legal research and writing. I ultimately found that the law matched both my academic strengths and my intellectual interests.

Why UVA Law? Admitted Students Open House completely sold me. A second-year law student I knew from Princeton invited me to a softball game, and the environment felt uniquely warm. The gregarious nature of the average UVA Law student takes much of the edge off of the law school experience. It was important to me that I attend a school where I could foster warm relationships with other students. UVA Law fit that mold better than anywhere else I considered.

What would you like to do with your law degree? My experience at the district court inspired an interest in attaining a judicial clerkship or two after graduation. Later, I plan to join a large law firm in either an appellate or antitrust practice. At some point, I hope to go into public service in the federal government.

What are you looking forward to the most in your first year of law school? I am most looking forward to returning to an academic environment. It is an immense privilege to be in close contact with hundreds of brilliant people every day. Even better, at UVA we become friends as well as legal scholars.

Drew Mackenzie

Drew Mackenzie

Hometown: Waco, Texas

Education: Baylor University; University Scholar, concentrating in great texts, political philosophy and economics

Notable work/educational experience: I have served as a research assistant to former U.S. Solicitor General Ken Starr, an intern at the American Enterprise Institute, a congressional intern and an intern at the Mission Waco Legal Service Clinic.

Why study law? My undergraduate studies were largely dedicated to such intellectual pursuits as: How does one live a good life? What is the purpose of political community? And what makes a society just? At some point during that journey I found myself implicated by these questions and hungering for opportunities to incarnate my pursuits in some way. This seems to me to be the same hunger that drives the legal tradition, and I am incredibly excited about the opportunity to be a part of it.

Why UVA Law? This school is special; among elite schools, it is unique in its commitment to a culture of serious respect towards and among students and the legal profession. From day one, students are encouraged to see each other as comrades in the pursuit of common goals that transcend individual interests. This is a place where we are inspired to remember the traditional reputation of the law as one of the three noble professions, with all the gravity and absence of self-regard that such a perspective entails. It is also a place that encourages a larger perspective on life, preserving students from the all-too-common myopia of those who forget that legal disputes are the interruption to, rather than the substance of, a full human life.

What would you like to do with your law degree? There are a range of opportunities that have piqued my interest, such as the DOJ and the U.S. attorney’s office. However, I am keeping my eyes open as I continue to be exposed to this new world of the law.

What are you looking forward to the most in your first year of law school? I am most looking forward to getting to know my peers and professors, and continuing to grow as I adjust to living in a new city. I am also very excited to put my new skill set into practice.

Avery Rasmussen

Avery Rasmussen

Hometown: Pensacola, Florida

Education: University of Virginia, commerce; political philosophy, policy and law

Notable work/educational experience: For the past couple of years I've been working as a business analyst for a management consulting firm in Washington, D.C. I primarily worked on projects in the public and social sectors, most recently on a major state-level fiscal transformation.

Why study law? Throughout my undergraduate studies, I was drawn to classes featuring logic, analytical thinking and, of course, lots of reading. And in D.C., I found that the government and nonprofit lawyers with whom I worked were in a unique position to both do interesting, fulfilling work and enact real change in their worlds. 

Why UVA Law? While there are plenty of law schools that offer great academic opportunities, I felt that UVA had that and more. The community and well-roundedness offered by UVA Law is unparalleled. 

What would you like to do with your law degree? I would like to work in public service, returning to the social and public sectors in a new capacity. While I’m particularly passionate about constitutional law and civil liberties, I’m open to the form this goal might take in the future.

What are you looking forward to the most in your first year of law school? I’m excited to get to know the overwhelmingly accomplished, yet incredibly welcoming professors, faculty and students that give UVA its character. I’m also looking forward to seeing what kind of comeback Tony Bennett can lead this season!

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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